A serious civil-rights crisis is taking place in Tucson under the watch of Police Chief Robert Villaseñor. What will City Manager Richard Miranda, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the Tucson City Council do to remedy this monumental civil-rights standoff?
On Oct. 8, the Tucson Police Department pulled over a vehicle with two fathers — Agustin Reyes and Arturo Robles — for a broken taillight. As is common practice, the police officer chose to collaborate with immigration enforcement and called Border Patrol when the driver did not provide an Arizona driver’s license.
A group of people gathered on the scene to do peaceful civil observation and surrounded the Border Patrol vehicle to create a human circle to prevent a family separation.
In response to this spontaneous action of solidarity the TPD and Border Patrol sent scores of backup, and officers began to violently break the human chain in an excessive display of force and unnecessary use of city funds. Villaseñor’s police officers employed brutal force on the peaceful observers: dragging, pushing and hitting civilians and arresting two — Rosa Leal and Mari Galup. While children and elderly people watched, agents pepper-sprayed and shot pepper balls at dozens of community members.
In a press conference Oct. 9, Villaseñor defended his officers’ use of force and stated they are responsible for following the law. Essentially, Villaseñor chooses to hide behind misinterpretations of SB 1070 to justify racially based detentions and validate a law that inherently undermines public safety and due process, strains city resources, separates families and violates the public’s civil and constitutional rights.
SB 1070 requires that “any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released” during a “lawful” stop. The previous sentence of the bill uses qualifying language, such as if “reasonable suspicion” exists, if it is “practicable” and unless “the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.” We believe this grants the TPD discretion to not call Border Patrol.
Thus, the TPD intentionally, voluntarily and unnecessarily calls Border Patrol to separate families. The TPD has lost the community’s trust, which in turn jeopardizes their stated goals of protecting people from harm.
For example, community residents continue to report troubling encounters with the Tucson Police Department. Individuals report having their immigration status checked after reporting a crime or for failing to answer officers in English. Passengers in vehicles and innocent pedestrians report being asked for identification. Passengers have been arrested for failure to provide ID (although this is not a crime either). Others report being verbally abused by Spanish-speaking officers.
The ACLU of Arizona has also received several reports that officers refuse to consider an individual’s deferred action status before calling Border Patrol.
Nonetheless, there are a number of immediate steps that TPD can take, including several already adopted by police chiefs around the state and country.
To restore community trust and ensure that rights under the U.S. and Arizona constitutions are upheld, Villaseñor should create a policy whereby Tucson officers are ordered to stop initiating contact with Border Patrol or ICE, especially for victims of crime and witnesses; cite-and-release is done when possible; excessive force against civil observers is prohibited; prolonged detention is not allowed; impounding of vehicles when someone else can drive them is not allowed; and interrogation of minors or passengers over their immigration status is forbidden.
If Villaseñor ignores the community’s petitions, we ask City Manager Miranda, the mayor and City Council immediately to intervene to ensure that Tucson lives up to its “Immigrant Welcoming City” resolution the City Council passed Aug. 7, 2012. It is time to move forward with concrete steps to stop the collaboration between TPD and Border Patrol and ICE.
The Tucson community will continue to hold Villaseñor, Miranda, the mayor and council accountable until we truly have a healthy and welcoming Tucson.